Over 29 years and counting: A Hindu Temple’s continuance of community
| By Patricia Torres and Samannaz Rohanimanesh |
In her traditional maroon dress with gold sequins, Vijay Kushawaha dances to the drums of Indian music with two smiling little girls alongside her. Kushawaha, a volunteer and worshipper, is one of a few hundred people who is clapping and dancing along to the music on the fifth day of Navratri, a nine-day celebration of the Hindu goddesses.
Besides the music, a stream of people walk down the Hindu temple’s aisle, surrounded by dozens of gods. When they reach the altar, they kneel down to pay respect to Vishnu, Lakshmi and Saraswati, three of the main gods in the Hindu religion.
“Everybody is like a family here and we want everyone to come here and feel at home,” Kushawaha said. “It is a place of peace, a place where you share your happiness, your sorrow, your good times and bad times.”
As one of the first Hindu temples in the DMV area, the Hindu Temple of Metropolitan Washington has been a place of worship since 1988. The temple has been an integral part of the community, and has grown over the years, as the Hindu population has increased.
Services used to be held in a single-family home, where the priests now live. In 2006, from the help of donations, a brand-new temple was built beside the house and now welcomes up to 100 people during a regular Sunday prayer service, Kushawaha said.
Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, and the world’s third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam. In the United States, there are over 2 million Hindus, according to the Pew Research Center.
Hindus believe the soul never dies, but is reborn – in either human or animal form – each time the body dies. They also believe in one supreme being who is represented in different gods and goddesses.
“This is a central place, it was established to promote Indian culture and the values, so we have all types of services held, from birth to death,” Kushawaha said.
These services include weddings, funerals and the various festivals the religion celebrates. As well, they also gather with other Hindu temples in the area to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, every October.
Surendra Kumar, a D.C resident who has been coming to the temple since 1990, says that a place of worship is important because it gives you energy in times where you can feel hollow and down.
“It keeps us connected to god and it is also a way to socialize,” Kumar said. “People have a lot happening in their life and we tend not to be so excited for the good things but for the bad things we demoralize and this is a good way to get recharged.”
Indian-American youth and the Hindu Religion
In the Hindu religion, prayers and services are held in the Hindi language. In the United States, this can cause a gap between the older and younger generation because of the lack of education in the Indian language between the two generations.
Amita Tiwari, a worshipper from the Hindu Temple says that her son does not speak Hindi because of his American education and the peer pressure in school but they teach and practice Hinduism at home that helps him understand.
“At that point, it comes down to the parent’s responsibility, “ Tiwari said.
Some parents refuse to teach Hindi or other Indian subcontinent languages to their kids because they want them to be fluent in English. This has caused a lost Indian-American generation who has no connection to their heritage what so ever.
As the rate of Indian immigrants goes higher and higher every year, peer pressure and cultural crisis at American schools have forced the Indian students to reject their own culture and identity.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, from 1980 to 2013, the Indian immigrant population increased ten-fold, from 206,000 to 2.04 million, roughly doubling every decade. Because of this, Indian communities face a dour challenge to transfer their pedagogy to their younger generation who are born in the United States.